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2008 Team Preview: USC Trojans

Another National Championship? Carroll Has Trojans Primed for Title Run

By

USC Tailback Joe McKnight

USC Trojans tailback Joe McKnight averaged 5.7 yards per carry in 2007. He figures to get more opportunities this season.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
It’s become somewhat of a cliché to say the USC Trojans' second-stringers could beat just about any other team in the country.

The thing is, it’s probably true.

Trojans coach Pete Carroll might just be the best recruiter in modern college football history. In fact, Carroll has so many former “five-star” players on his roster that his biggest problem seems to be keeping them from transferring for lack of playing time (besides, anywhere else, these kids would be starters).

So yes, USC has depth. And this year, surprisingly, they’re going to need it: The Trojans need to replace six starters on offense alone, including their quarterback. It’s a challenge, but if anyone is up for it, it’s Carroll.

Besides, with NFL-ready players littered across the roster (headlined by linebacker Rey Maualuga), and playmakers at key spots (tailback Joe McKnight and receiver Vidal Hazelton, among others), the Trojans seem primed for another national championship run.

Biggest Challenge

Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who visit Los Angeles on Sept. 13, are the only team standing between the Trojans and the BCS Champsionship Game. The showdown will not only be the best game of the season, but may also go down as one of the great cross-sectional matchups the game has ever seen. Though few seem to give Ohio State much of a chance in this one, it will be interesting to see how the Trojans’ new presumed starter at quarterback, Mark Sanchez, will react when faced with a smart, athletic and veteran Ohio State defense led by All-Americans James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins.

Biggest Strength

Linebackers. The Trojans are loaded here, with two All-American-caliber players in Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, along with not-too-shabby depth from guys like Clay Matthews Jr., among others. These guys are fast, athletic and active—just look at how they dominated a pretty darn good Illinois team in the 2008 Rose Bowl. It's an impressive group, though Maualuga is clearly the star here. He's coming off a fantastic 2007 season: 79 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and three passes defended. One of the great hitters in college football, Maualuga will make a serious push for the Butkus Award in 2008.

Prediction

Barring another unexpected in-conference collapse (see: Stanford 2007), the Trojans shouldn’t have trouble with anyone on their PAC-10 slate, so the only question is whether Sanchez and those other young offensive starters (including four new ones on the offensive line) will be ready for a very talented Buckeye team in early September. A loss isn’t out of the question, of course — Ohio State is almost as loaded as the Trojans. But here’s good news for Trojans fans: Even with a loss there, the Rose Bowl seems to be almost a given. The fact that Carroll and his team would consider yet another trip to Pasadena somewhat of a disappointment speaks volumes about just how high expectations are out in Los Angeles -- and how good this program is.

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